Sunday, September 20, 2015

Quizzes without Grades

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how I was going to stop putting grades on quizzes. This decision was heavily influenced by Dylan Wiliam's ideas from his book, Embedded Formative Assessment. I also need to mention that Ashli Black has very helpful explaining how she does comments-only grading and pushing me to design a system of grading that works.

This past week, I was finally able to test-run this idea after the students took a quiz on the Order of Operations. I explained my reasoning to the students and, for the most part, they seemed to be okay with it. I told them that this creates a better working environment where students can feel less embarrassed about their performance and work together to identify and correct their mistakes, no matter how well they did. I marked the quizzes by circling the problem number for every wrong solution and then color-coding three problems that I wanted the student to correct. If a problem had a pink mark, they had to identify their error. If there was a purple mark, they had to rework the problem. If a student did not get anything wrong, I gave them a more challenging problem to solve. Finally, while grades were not written on the quizzes, they were calculated and recorded into the online gradebook so parents and students could see them at home.

Overall, I thought it went really well. The students had about 10 minutes to work alone or together on their mistakes and handed the quizzes back to me. Those who did not finish had extra time overnight to do so.
The next day, I used socrative (an online quizzing tool) to ask my students how they felt about my "no grade" policy. The good news is that 70% of my students either liked it or didn't care. More students liked it than didn't like it. However, there is still 30% of my students that didn't like it. While it was not obvious in their responses, I believe that this frustration comes from not having that instant gratification of knowing what your grade is. This impatience isn't unexpected. Many times students will ask me if I graded their quiz ten minutes after handing it in.

In the end, I think the benefit of students revisiting their work and working together to fix mistakes outweighs the annoyance of not getting their grades right away. I'm hoping that, over time, students will begin to also see that benefit.

As a side note, I should say that I'm not really doing "comments-only grading". I had considered writing out comments, but it occurred to me that most of what I'd be writing could later be discovered by the student upon more reflection or figured out with help from a classmate. I believe that writing comments on every wrong answer would have been extremely time consuming and would have deprived my students from discovering their own mistakes.

Update 2/15/15:

Carolina Vila (@MsVila on twitter) asked me if I have kept up with this system. As with anything I experiment with, I look for more efficient ways to do things. (Okay, maybe I just got lazier.)

I mentioned that I color-coded problems in the beginning of the year and that these colors would tell students how I wanted them to reflect on each problem (identify the error/explain what they did wrong or rework the problem). After doing this a few times, it just seemed to make more sense to have students do both things. On a separate piece of paper, they would have to tell me which three problems they chose to rework, tell me (in sentence form) what they did wrong, and finally, rework the problem.

For students that got everything right, I backed away from trying to give them a more challenging problem, and instead, asked them to help other students make their corrections.

Students would turn in their corrections along with their quiz, I would check to see that it was done, AND THEN, I would write their grade on the quiz to give back to them the next day. When I first started taking grades off of the quizzes, I had hoped that I could just put their grades online for them to check, but I ran into too many issues where students and parents couldn't check the grades online because they lost their passwords or didn't have internet access at home. By finally putting the grades on the quizzes, students complained less and respected the correction process more.

On the student side, one of the biggest misconceptions was that making quiz corrections would improve their quiz grade. I explained that they would get credit for making the corrections (similar to a homework grade), but that their quiz grade would remain the same. The only way their grade would improve would be to retake the quiz, and the only way a student would be allowed to retake a quiz is if he or she made the corrections on the first quiz. Altogether, there is plenty of incentive to make these corrections.